Big Trouble
review by Elias Savada, 12 April 2001

Are we removed far enough from the events and aftermath of 9/11 to have Big Trouble hoisted upon us? Well, our collective comic soul yearns to say yes, as does Buena Vista, the film's distributor. But there's a lot of angst following this film around -- including the title itself -- one of the numerous cinematic casualties sidelined by the terrorist attacks six months ago. We may have lost friends, family, and a smiley-face conception of well being last fall, but our sense of humor wasn't destroyed when the Twin Towers collapsed. Sure our funny bones were broken and that farcical essence that tickles our ribs was numbed from an extended injection of toxic, terrorist novacaine, but the late night talk/comedy shows, the silly sit-coms, and Tinseltown's reel reality all returned to television and the big screen months ago. We are healing, and it's up to broad comedies like Big Trouble to at least attempt to remedy the cosmic depression that has enveloped our civilized planet. Lord knows that was not the film's original intention -- it's makers just want to put the "p" back in parody and a big, fat grin on our faces.

That's still a tall order considering the film's all about a nuclear bomb tossed about Dade County like lost luggage. Listen, if Drew Carey can make us scream with desperate absurdity at airport security just a week or so ago, the multiplex masses should be able to handle an extended version of basically the same joke. Unfortunately for director Barry Sonnenfeld, I suspect Big Trouble will just be an asterix on a generally glowing resume; a coulda, shoulda, woulda hit that didn't because of extenuating circumstances beyond the filmmaker's pre-release horizon. History will write it off as middle tier, below his bonafide hits Men in Black, Get Shorty, and The Addams Family, yet miles above the mechanical tripe of Wild, Wild West. Yeah, it's funny, but…

As sure as I read syndicated Pulitzer Prize-winner Dave Barry's absurdist humor ever Sunday, I expected most of his wacky literary bite to be up there in Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone's adaptation of Barry's implausibly entertaining novel, very reminiscent of the classic work of Jean Sheperd. And it is. The screenwriters have proven the third time's nearly the charm, having previously failed with Life (Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence) and Destiny Turns on the Radio (Dylan McDermott and Quentin Tarantino). Although the film succeeds more because of Sonnenfeld's quick pacing and his handling a cast that relishes in their off-beat characters. He uses an easygoing flashback technique that fills in the comedic anguish behind each of the many characters. The only down factor in the show is the post-9/11 weirdness of the comic atomic core the bedevils the project in the guise of a mysterious metal suitcase. For those of us old enough to remember, the basso vacuum-sealed escape of air from this particular case sounds very much like it was lifted from Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly, a marvelously effective film noir piece also dealing with nuclear material encased in a similar container. Sonnenfeld is also inclined to borrow sparingly from Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove. So what, it works.

Tim Allen, fresh of his holiday disappointment Joe Somebody, returns with the same type of character, an amiable, recently divorced parent in search of respect from his child and co-workers. His nemesis last Christmas was Patrick Warburton (who teamed with Sonnenfeld on the short-lived Fox tv series The Tick) returning as a tickish, off-focused police officer out to impress the ladies. A dozen other cast members create a group of whacky pairings whose paths more than coincidentally criss-cross through the streets of Miami and ultimately on the roadways leading to its airport. Rene Russo, married to a womanizing toe-lint-fetishist and crooked business executive (Stanley Tucci) finds comfort in the arms of Allen. Their teenage kids, Ben Foster and Zooey Deschanel, are embroiled in a game of Killer, involving a night time squirt from a water pistol. Two New Jersey hit men (Dennis Farina and Jack Kehler) contracted to take out Tucci, get confused in the kid's gunplay.Tucci is involved with a couple of Russian arms dealers whose lowlife bar is frequented by a pair of dumb and dumber ex-cons (Tom Sizemore and Johnny Knoxville) and Jason Lee, a homeless saviour just in from Boston. He ends up in a tree house with a bleacher seat view of the action. His assigned partner is a sexy housekeeper (Sofia Vergara). Janeane Garfalo is the deeply-tanned, hardnosed cop (she's a real sparkplug) assigned to the aforementioned Warburton. Omar Epps and Dwight "Heavy D" Myers seriously ham it up as overbearing FBI agents pushing special executive order 678-04 as their iron fist in search of the aluminum valise. There's also a dirt-eating, crotch-enamored dog and a stationary toad that emits hallucinogenic secretions.

Sure, there's a lot of fun, idiotic stuff, plenty of action, one-liners, and bloated buffoonery. And some great goat stunt work. But a Godzilla-sized change in our sensibilities, in our everyday lives and in the way we travel, will make this film a struggle for audiences to accept as it tries to swim upstream in today cautionary currents. And with today's fickle audiences, that can be turn Big Trouble into big trouble.

Directed by:
Barry Sonnenfeld

Tim Allen
Zooey Deschanel
Omar Epps
Dennis Farina
Ben Foster
Janeane Garofalo
Johnny Knoxville
Jason Lee
Dwight "Heavy D" Myers
Rene Russo
Tom Sizemore
Stanley Tucci
Sofia Vergara
Patrick Warburton
Jack Kehler

Written by:
Robert Ramsey
Matthew Stone

PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may be
inappropriate for children
under 13.




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